We’re excited to share this dad’s experience of taking parental leave to be the primary carer of his daughter for three months. Rob Sturrock took time away from his public policy role and he couldn’t be happier he did. With an eclectic set of skills based on his career experience, he gained a bunch of other valuable skills during parental leave that have made him more productive in the workplace.
Rob explains what it was like becoming a first-time dad, a stay-at-home dad, and how he hopes the world his daughter grows up in will look a lot different to what it does now.
Can you tell us about your career journey so far?
It has been an eclectic one. My main study in university was government, public policy and law. I graduated university in 2005 (yikes) and worked for KPMG as a graduate in social policy consultancy. I then tried being a lawyer for a few years at a big corporate firm but ended up hating it. I then backpacked for a bit, did a Masters in London where I met my wife, then returned to Australia and worked in the Federal public sector, then at a think tank. Now I work for The Smith Family running their public policy.
Congratulations on being the proud dad of a gorgeous daughter. Can you tell us about how becoming a dad has changed your perspective on life?
It has been a profoundly rewarding experience, beyond what I could have imagined. For most of my adult life I never thought I’d have kids: it didn’t seem like a natural fit for me. With a great partner came a change of perspective.
At first, when we started talking about it I was terrified, but then as we got pregnant and it became increasingly real, I felt more confident and ready. I think it helped that I was older too—in my mid-30s.
My wife puts it best: “Having a child makes you feel like your heart is wandering around outside your body!” My daughter is the light of my life.
Being a dad has had a huge impact on my work: not just in trying to do ‘the juggle’, but also in working on public policy for a charity that addresses child poverty.
You were a stay at home dad for three months when your daughter was little. Tell us about your experience and what did you learn?
I remember the first day felt so long! And it felt like a major achievement to have made it to 6PM.
There was a big difference in my relationship with my daughter before and after those three months. Before I was heavily involved in the mornings and evenings, but being with her all day was an incredibly bonding experience. And she was just starting to stand and walk—so much fun!
We went swimming, to the park, to cafés, and did plenty of goofy games at home. Making her laugh remains the best part of my day. I also practiced so many skills that I could use in my work: time management, crisis and problem solving, resourcefulness, organisational skills. I went back to work with a bunch of skills that helped me be more productive.
Sounds like it’s definitely been an incredibly rewarding experience for you. What do you think the biggest challenges are that working women face?
In my experience supporting my wife and talking to my friends, it’s how much of the responsibilities of parenting remain on the shoulders of mums. Sick days, daycare pick-ups and drop-offs, family budget and meal planning—it disproportionately sits with the mums, and that is massively unfair in my view. I know plenty of dads who are still comfortable with leaving a lot of the parenting to mums.
What gives me hope is when I see dads pushing strollers during the week in the middle of the day, or at the park, or cuddling their child at the end of a long stint at daycare. But there are still too few dads bucking the social norms and challenging the system. Only a small portion of dads take parental leave, and an even tinier portion change to part-time work once they have kids. There is no reason men shouldn’t be increasingly working part-time to be with their kids.
What are the key things that need to change to make it a more equitable society?
I think it’s men actively and consciously seeking to change community expectations of dads, and raise the bar. Dads should be continuously and actively thinking, “How can I do more to be a more involved dad and ease the burden on my partner?”
We have to stop the learned helplessness where dads feel mums are ‘naturally’ better and more attuned to their kids. We need dads to ask their employers for paid parental leave, take leave, and then encourage their colleagues, family and friends to do the same.
We can make sure dads do their fair share if we can start to change attitudes household by household.
Men are key to solving this problem just as much as women. What is your advice to other men?
In my experience, apart from breastfeeding there is no task that a dad can’t do as well as a mum.
Dads should take any opportunity to get involved with their kids from the moment their kids are born. Don’t sit back. Roll your sleeves up and learn by doing.
Make mistakes and do it better next time. We’ll make our community better if we have more active dads taking the lead in parenting, and changing the stereotypical attitudes around who should do the caring. Plus, it’s so much fun and so rewarding to have a deep, close bond with your kids. Don’t miss out!
What do you wish for your daughter’s future?
I want her to grow up in a household, and in a community, where it is completely boring and uninteresting that Dad does the cleaning, vacuuming, cooking, pick-ups and drop-offs, and that Mum spends as much time at the office as Dad. I want equality between her parents to underpin her life, and be something she never needs to question and interrogate.
And as for the big picture, this is a particularly fraught question at the moment, as the world is on fire. Often it feels unsafe, unstable and in a downward spiral. I would love for my daughter to be an agent for change—smart, brave, resilient, compassionate and, importantly, inquisitive about how to change things that are unfair, and make the world around her better. If I do my job, she’ll make the world better just by being in it.